The Difference a Home can Make

August 18, 2011

To give them a home, many times is to give them life. This is a sad but true reality for a number of animal shelters across the United States struggling with pet overpopulation, cruelty, abandonment and neglect.
In communities everywhere, individuals who love and care for their pets like children are relying on shelters to provide support for them and, if nothing else, peace of mind that their companion will find a new family to love and care for them as they did.

“This boy is a wonderful dog and I have not regretted taking him home for a single second. I’m just starting to let myself hope that he just might get well enough to have a long and ordinary life -and spend it with me. He is definitely a dog worth saving and I’m so glad that you did. A lot of shelters would never have given him that chance.” – Cheri, – the foster mom

This is the story of Marty…

On June 1, Marty, a 6-month-old pit bull puppy, was brought to KHS. It was extremely difficult to look down upon this sweet boy that so needed our help without wanting to cry. He just sat so patiently in the kennel, looking up at you with his head tilted to the side and ears erect, except for the very tips which were flopped over. It appeared as if someone had thrown acid in his eyes. His eyes were severely inflamed and red and he had blood tinged discharge coming from both of his eyes and out through his nose. His eyelids were ulcerated with sores. Marty was a mess.
Our staff was just perplexed with what they saw. Our vet team worked diligently to care for Marty multiple times a day. We placed Marty back in isolation where he would be safe and could relax while our vet staff formed a game plan for his care. The next day posed more challenges. He had thick, dark green/yellow discharge from his nose. Marty was depressed and very lethargic just from over night. Our vet team feared Canine Distemper and tested him right away. Our vet team started treating him for his respiratory infection and his eyes. The test results came back negative for Distemper, which was a blessing.
Slowly Marty started to improve and the ulcerations around his eyes healed; no more blood. A week went by and still no progress, by now his immune system continued to weaken, Marty’s health continued to deteriorate resulting in nose bleeds, lethargy and vomiting. We were at a crossroads, without knowing what Marty was battling and limited resources – the question was how do we save his life? We reached out to our community and thankfully Marty was given the chance to go and spend a week at an ophthalmologist to see if they could figure out what was going on with his eyes. After testing, the ophthalmologist determined that he had an autoimmune disease that was affecting his eye and was started on appropriate therapy. Marty was able to come back “home” to us with medication. This gave Marty the jumpstart that he needed to the recovery that he needed. With treatment, his upper respiratory infection continued to improve.
Once stable, KHS continued treatment, but in shelter life, regardless of the caring staff, love and isolation, it can be difficult on pets like Marty trying to recover from a severe illness. We were not out of the woods yet. He had developed severe diarrhea and it took a few days to get that under control. His immune system was compromised and in a shelter environment, it is just hard to bounce back. What he needed was a fresh start in a clean home environment; it was Marty’s only hope. Everyday he’d sit nicely at the front of his kennel, not barking or jumping, just looking up at you with his big floppy ears and bulgy eyes and titling his head. We felt helpless as we stared at Marty and his titling head sitting at the front of the kennel – as if he was silently saying, “Please don’t give up on me, I haven’t given up on you.”
We all knew that Marty was an amazing dog, would someone see this too? No one should be isolated in a 4’X6’ kennel, hold it together and still display a lust for life and deep desire for love. At one very last attempt to save Marty’s life, we placed a desperate foster plea out to our foster parents. We knew the likelihood of someone stepping up to help Marty was slim. Not because they wouldn’t want to, but Marty needed a home with no other dogs (due to his illness), he needed a foster parent who was home often enough to monitor and administer meds, he needed a unique person who could handle a worst case scenario should Marty not recover and his health decline, but most of all he needed the comfort of home and love of a family even if only for a little while. This is a tall order in the midst of summer when shelters are overpopulated, looking for fosters left and right to make space, and during the hustle of summer vacations. Even then, finding a foster was not a guarantee that little Marty would pull through.
Marty was looking pretty good so while we waited for a foster home for him, he was moved out to the main kennel. Maybe someone would see this boy for who he truly is and fall in love. Perhaps we would find Marty’s home this way. It was a shot that we had to take. He was out in the main kennel for one day before he broke with a bloody nose and had to be moved back to isolation. Shoot…But a miracle happened that one day he spent out there. What we didn’t know at the time was that in fact, Marty’s foster had been there that day roaming the kennels looking for love. He spotted Marty sitting so nicely at the front of his kennel, head tilted and waiting for someone to give him a chance. It was love at first sight. He went back home that day and spoke to his mom about this dog that he found at the shelter. I received an e-mail the very next day with questions and concerns. I wanted them to have all the information they could possibly have to help in their decision in fostering so I referred them to shelter veterinarian Dr. Jen Stonequist. Fostering is a hard job; it was risky with his medical condition and what if the outcome wasn’t what we were all hoping for? Could they handle this if the outcome wasn’t good? They knew the risk and working in the medical field, they were familiar with situations where patients may not recover. This is the essence of a foster parent – a life-saving foster parent. Their home was the difference between life and death for Marty their heart was big enough to share in joy or grief regardless of Marty’s fate.
There was one worry in all of this. You see, like all animal-loving people, it is hard to find someone without the love and companionship of a pet. In fact, this home had 3 little dogs. We decided to give it a try and the 3 other dogs were brought into the shelter for a meet and greet with Marty just to make sure that everyone would/could get along. There was a risk in doing this. Marty was very sick and there was a good chance that her others dogs would be exposed to it just by coming to the shelter to meet Marty. The meet and greet went ok. Her little dogs really didn’t seem interested in Marty and he was just so happy to be outside that I am not sure that he even noticed them. Their interactions left us all feeling pretty well about sending him home. In fact, this was the first time that Marty’s foster mom had met him. She had only heard about him through her son and all that we could tell her about him over the phone and through e-mail. I do believe she fell in love with this boy before she ever laid eyes on him; drool- covered, snotty-green boogery face, bloody nose, swollen face and all. Needless to say, Marty was loaded up in the car and left moments later. He no longer spends his days in a 4’X6’ kennel. Marty has a home and he knows it!
Marty is a true survivor due to the love of a foster home, dedicated medical team and shelter staff. Even though Marty is still getting treatment and improving week after week, this story could have easily had a very different ending. Marty, we all wish you the best and know you are in the best home ever! 
            -Heidi Dahl, KHS Foster Coordinator